Friday, July 26, 2019
WRESTLING'S SOUTHLAND: A LEGACY OF LOVE
Ray Southland stood at the head of the class.
When I was assigned to cover high school wrestling back in 1992, all I knew was the orchestrated, pre-ordained legacy of what is known as the professional version of the sport. I attended a high school that didn't even offer wrestling as a varsity sport. Only hockey was spoken during the winter season in Hamden.
So when I was gently pushed toward wrestling in 1991-92, my facial expression must have screamed to the close-knit community that I didn't know the difference between a fireman's carry and a single-leg takedown.
Ray Southland was among a group of officials whose incredible passion for the sport propelled him well beyond his appointed duties. I had many questions. Ray offered all the answers, not only efficiently in basic terms but with his love for the sport sparkling in his smile. Ray's sincerity, thoughtfulness and his profound love for the young athletes were so fluent, leaving no doubt in my mind that his broader mission was softening life's difficulties for all he knew.
Working with officials like Ray was a tremendous asset for a reporter looking for angles that superseded victory and defeat. Extrapolating their perception of the teams and individuals they scrutinized and the gnawing issues wrestling faced facilitated my ability to write more insightful pieces that transcended championships.
Among the ways Ray stamped his outgoing, candid personality on an issue was discussing the difficult calls he sometimes had to make. When calls would affect the outcome of bouts and matches, he was forthcoming in discussing it with me, fully knowing that he could be laying himself open for controversy if I wrote the issue up a certain way.
Wrestling, perhaps more than less grueling scholastic competitions, served as an excellent foundation for the lives of former competitors now spreading the gospel that Ray helped lay out. I saw a comment from former Southington All-Stater Zach Bylykbashi that echoes my feelings. Bylykbashi said he was always uplifted when he saw that Ray was going to officiate his matches because he respected his competence and understanding.
I regrettably never had an opportunity to know Ray beyond the wresting arena, but I can discern exactly how he approached his work as a secondary school teacher and administrator. Those who had the chance to work with Ray at Washington Middle School in Meriden will continue to benefit from his style, his demeanor and his unbridled passion for improving life around him. His words of guidance came directly from his heart, depositing a sparkle in his eyes that conveyed righteousness, integrity and authenticity, intermingling as part of the legacy he leaves behind.